- Image credit: Flickr user Bill Kramme, Creative Commons
As I’ve talked about on a number of occasions here, one of the nice things about living where I do is the commute to work, or lack thereof. I don’t have a commute so much as I have a ten minute walk between my apartment and the office. In theory, this means that I’m not spending any money on commuting expenses (especially since I am no longer making a monthly car payment as of a few months ago,) but I’m pretty sure any money being saved by not driving to work and back is being swallowed up pretty well in the additional living expenses that come with life in Downtown Bellevue compared to what they would be living in a place a bit further out in the suburbs. Even if I’m leaving the car parked at home all day, I’ve still got to pay the going rate for Downtown parking at home, which tends not to be particularly cheap. So when it all boils down I’m probably not saving much money (if any at all) by living here and walking to work, but I suppose I’m at least getting a little bit of exercise in the process, right?
The walk that I make twice a day between here and the office comes out to roughly .4 miles in each direction and change, with very slight and ultimately insignificant variations in length depending on which of the several possible routes I actually take. No matter which direction I go in, I will always have to cross the same three streets (NE 8th, 110th Ave NE and 108th Ave NE) although where I actually cross those streets may vary. This means that quite often, I find myself waiting for walk signals at crosswalks. Once you start crossing a particular street at a particular spot often enough, you quickly begin to learn the traffic patterns and stoplight timings, although it’s not like any of them are too terribly difficult to figure out in the first place. Aside from a minor variation or two in patterns resulting from the presence or absence of cars in some left turn lanes, the stoplights all behave in a more or less predictable fashion. This is, naturally, a good thing, the last thing you want when there’s several hundred very heavy objects traveling at high rates of speed is to have to guess what the traffic lights are going to do next. Generally by the time you’ve crossed the street at a particular intersection enough times, you tend to have a pretty good handle on where in the cycle a light will be when you get there, and how long it’s going to take to cross the street.
Or least that’s how it would work out if people were actually paying attention to this stuff. If you wander around Downtown Bellevue (or Downtown Seattle, or pretty much any other major urban downtown I suspect) enough, it won’t take you long to find someone doing something they’re not supposed to be doing in a crosswalk. Mostly it’s just little things like taking way too long to cross or starting to cross about three seconds before the light turns yellow, but occasionally you get the ones that just ignore the crossing signals entirely and just wander right into oncoming traffic. Fortunately, it seems like most of these people at least have enough common sense to at least prevent themselves from finding new employment in the lucrative hood ornament industry, but sometimes you have to wonder. Are they just too impatient to wait the 3o seconds it would take for the walk signal to show up? Are they running to catch a bus? Are they sick of playing Frogger as a video game and want to experience it in real life? The world may never know.
While I can’t claim to know what causes presumably otherwise sane people to frequently throw caution to the wind and cross streets in lunatic-like fashion, one thing that seems to encourage bad crosswalk behavior is the timers on the crossing signals, a relatively recent addition to most of the stoplights in the Downtown area. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these (which shouldn’t be a lot of people, as I’ve seen these become quite common around here over the past few years, and not just in Downtown,) instead of just a flashing Don’t Walk sign, these signals have a countdown timer telling you roughly how much time is left before the light is going to turn yellow. If you’ve ever read one of those little guides you occasionally see on posts next to the crosswalk buttons, you’d know that you’re not supposed to begin crossing the street if a flashing Don’t Walk sign is on. Apparently with the countdown timers on the lights, all bets are off on that one, and the flashing Don’t Walk sign has largely been downgraded to the level of a mere suggestion. Sure, you’ve only got six seconds to cross, but you can still make it as long as you don’t mind inconveniencing the guy trying to make a right turn in front of you a bit, right? After all, waiting for a second light builds character (for them, not you.)
And yes, I know that this subject is putting me dangerously close to chasing-kids-off-the-lawn territory, but you have to wonder if people give much thought to the fact that they’re placing themselves into the path of multiple two-ton projectiles piloted by persons of unknown reaction time, which also happen to have the right of way at the present time, and expect to somehow not get smacked halfway to Renton if they happen to get themselves hit by one of the things. Yes, I know it’s a pain to have to wait for the next light to cross the street, but at least if you do it that way you’ll usually make it across the street with at least as many unbroken bones as you began your trip with.